According to Yahoo Finance, immuno-oncology company Surface Oncology (“Surface”) recently received Orphan Drug designation for its leading therapeutic candidate SRF617. Altogether, this therapy is designed to treat patients with pancreatic cancer. Determining new treatments could fulfill an unmet need in this patient community and provide burgeoning immunotherapies to address and treat this cancer.
So what is SRF617? The treatment is a fully human antibody and CD39 inhibitor. CD39 is a rate-limiting enzyme that helps to catalyze ATP and ADP into AMP. ATP is an immunostimulatory, so catalyzing it causes less of an immune response. More than that, CD39 is expressed at high rates within the tumor micro-environment. According to Nature:
The tumour mass consists not only of a heterogeneous population of cancer cells but also a variety of resident and infiltrating host cells, secreted factors and extracellular matrix proteins, collectively known as the tumour microenvironment. Tumour progression is profoundly influenced by interactions of cancer cells with their environment that ultimately determine whether the primary tumour is eradicated, metastasizes or establishes dormant micrometastases.
In this case, since CD39 is expressed in pancreatic cancer stromal cells, the microenvironment prevents adequate anti-cancer responses from the immune system. Rather, the cancerous cells are allowed to better proliferate. Thus, SRF617 works by not only promoting anti-tumor immune response but by reducing CD39 and increasing ATP levels.
Now, SRF617 received Orphan Drug designation. The FDA gives this status to drugs or biologics designed to treat rare or life-threatening diseases. Ultimately, a “rare disease” is considered one which impacts less than 200,000 Americans. Once a drug developer receives Orphan Drug status, they also receive a number of benefits, such as fee waivers, increased FDA communication, tax credits, and eligibility for 7 years of market exclusivity.
Overall, cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to proliferate and grow out of control. In this case, pancreatic cancer forms in the pancreas, an organ which sits behind the lower portion of the stomach. During digestion, your pancreas releases enzymes which help break down sugars, starch, and fat. However, the pancreas also helps in other areas; it secretes hormones to assist with blood sugar management. But the often difficult to detect pancreatic cancer can lead to severe health impacts.
There are two main forms of pancreatic cancer. First, pancreatic adenocarcinoma (exocrine pancreatic cancer) is the most common form. This cancer forms in the cells which line the pancreatic ducts. Next, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, also known as Islet cell tumors, form in the neuroendocrine cells. These are the cells which produce hormones. Risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include age (45+), being male, obesity, smoking tobacco, and a family history of cancer.
In many cases, pancreatic cancer symptoms do not appear until the cancer has progressed. When symptoms do appear, they include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Appetite loss
- Unintended weight loss
- Blood clots
- Severe abdominal pain that radiates to the back
- Dark and/or foamy urine
- Fluid accumulation in the abdominal
- Bowel obstructions
Learn more about pancreatic cancer.